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SPORTS EXTRA: NHL '98-99 | BREAKING THE ICE

Kariya, Selanne Run Hot and Cool, but They Flow Together

October 08, 1998|ELLIOTT TEAFORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

One is "the Finnish Flash," the other is simply a blur.

Step away from the ice, away from the crowds, the skates, sticks and pucks and you will find two very different people. The only thing Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya of the Mighty Ducks have in common is an uncommon grace in an often brutal game.

"Teemu is so easygoing," said Colorado Avalanche winger Warren Rychel, a former Duck. "Paul is so focused, you can't talk to him sometimes.

"But when they get on the ice, it's like magic."

Selanne and Kariya have been called hockey's greatest tandem in more than a decade, drawing comparisons to Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri during the Edmonton Oilers' dynasty of the 1980s.

Certainly, there's no questioning their credentials as the game's next dynamic duo. Perhaps the only thing holding the speedy wingers back is the Ducks' lack of success. After all, Gretzky won four Stanley Cups and Kurri five with Edmonton.

Selanne tied Washington's Peter Bondra for the NHL lead with 52 goals last season, becoming only the fourth player in league history to score more than 25% of his team's total. It was the second consecutive season he had topped the 50-goal mark and the third time in his six-season career.

Kariya had 17 goals in only 22 games. Three-fourths of his season was wiped out, first by a contract dispute and later by post-concussion syndrome. He has scored 40 or more goals twice in his four NHL seasons.

"Everybody in the league would like to have one player like that," said Pierre Gauthier, Duck president and general manager. "We have two."

Statistics did not create this bond and do not sustain it. Friendship forged the pairing. Fact is, Kariya raved so much about Selanne after meeting him at the 1996 All-Star game, then-general manager Jack Ferreira decided to trade for him. Ferreira bamboozled the Winnipeg Jets, persuading them to give up Selanne for Oleg Tverdovsky and Chad Kilger on Feb. 7, 1996.

Neither Kariya nor Selanne--and, in fact, neither the Ducks nor the Jets, who moved to Phoenix in 1996-97--were the same after the trade.

Kariya finally had a running mate. And Selanne had someone to teach him the importance of defense. The Walt Disney Co. had two marquee names to help promote its new plaything. And the Winnipeg-Phoenix franchise has been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs three consecutive seasons since trading Selanne, once by the Ducks.

"It's not only the way they play the game and the goals they score, but it's the way they're such professionals," Gauthier said when asked about the impact Selanne and Kariya have had on the Ducks.

"I've seen clubs where the top two guys try to steal the limelight from each other. But these guys really work together."

Perhaps it's their differences that bring out the best in each other.

"They are polar opposites in how they approach the game," goaltender Guy Hebert said. "Paul's determination and focus have had an impact on Teemu. You saw it in how Teemu held the team together last season. Teemu certainly has gotten Paul to lighten up. Both feed off each other. It's a great two-way street."

Selanne is gregarious, a fan of auto racing, soccer, tennis, and being a Finn, a lover of saunas. Kariya is reserved, a fan of Mafia movies, and being a Canadian, a lover of hockey.

"Teemu is a people person; Paul likes to maintain a quiet personal life," said Kariya's sister, Michiko.

The Flash

Selanne, 28, spent the summer in Finland, playing tennis and squash because, as he said, "I have to play games. I'm not the kind of guy who rides a [stationary] bike 50 minutes, then lifts weights for one hour. I like games. I like to win."

He went to a Formula One race in England, then attended the World Cup soccer final in Paris.

He also chatted at least once a week with Kariya. Heaven knows, there was plenty of news heating up the phone lines between Orange County and Europe this summer. The coaching staff was fired, Gauthier was hired, Ferreira was given a new job as director of hockey operations and Craig Hartsburg was hired as the new coach.

"He tried to explain to me what's going on," Selanne said of Kariya. "Sometimes he didn't know. Or couldn't explain it."

Selanne didn't let any of it faze him. "I try not to take hockey home with me," he said.

And summer is his time to be at home with his wife, Sirpa, and young sons, Eetu and Eemil.

Selanne retired the "party bus" when he married Sirpa more than two years ago, ending the party-on-wheels summers of his youth.

His bachelor party provided a fitting end to the "party bus" era, however. Selanne and friends climbed aboard the converted school bus on one memorable summer night in 1996.

His friends made Selanne dress like Elvis and forced him to sing at a nightclub, then drove him to a McDonald's, where he had to work behind the counter.

Finally, they blindfolded him, plugged his ears, changed his clothes, then set him free . . . in the middle of a soccer game. He played a half, but didn't score.

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